Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Fix: Even Appliances Need a Spring Cleaning

Something to think about....during the fast paced new housing market that most American families were now moving every three years. The source which I do not recall also noted that appliances today were built to last only 5 years. The business model is interesting...before the second owner moves out they replace all the appliances and sell to the third owner with appliances that are just a year old...crazy. The information below, both the New York Times and quotes from a House & Garden article may assist you in getting a little more out of your appliances now that the trend to move seems to be slowing.

Link to the Times article:
The Fix: Even Appliances Need a Spring Cleaning

An Article published in House and Garden in May 2004 by Glenn Recchia is one of my favorites.

In the article, Glenn reminds us that even the best appliances need care and will last longer with periodic cleaning. He likens this to the maintenance of your car and notes that many of today's high end kitchen appliances cost more than his car.

Below I have summarized Mr. Recchia Recommendations and they are as follows:

Refrigerator Maintenance:
If you own a Sub Zero, the condensers require regular cleanings to prevent overheating. Remove the grill every six months and dust with a gentle tool so as not to damage the aluminum fins. Then, with a soft brush attachment on your vacuum, remove the dust and finish up by cleaning the coils with a refrigerator coil brush.
For a standard refrigerator with typical coils on the back, vacuum these every six months as well.
And finally get down on the floor and look at the toe grille...yuck. Pop that off and vacuum/dust behind it and wash the grille in warm soapy water...this will insure that your appliance is getting enough air circulating around it.

Stove Tops and Range Maintenance:
By wiping up spills and overflows from pots, you will eliminate repairs. Using a fine wire brush typically found in paint stores, you can keep the little holes on gas burners functioning. Glenn recommends that "If spills occur while your are cooking, cover them with salt, both on top of the stove and in the oven, as soon as possible." This makes it easier to wipe off later. Cleaning grates with warm soapy water or in the dish washer is advised on a weekly basis.
Monthly vacuuming of the inside range is also recommended.

Dishwasher Maintenance:
Clogging is the biggest issue with dishwashers. I know many claim to clean it all off for you, but it is advised that you get the chucks off. It will prolong the life or the unit. If yours has a filter, check it often at least once a week and clean it removing any debris and brush it clean. It is recommended that you run the washer with a cup of white vinegar. Just throw it into the bottom and run the machine through one wash and rinse cycle and stop. Do not dry.

Stove Hood Maintenance:
The aluminum filters can usually be placed in the dishwasher on the pots-and-pans cycle at least once a month. It is recommended that you shut the power off to the hood first, and then wipe the fan blades behind the filters. If you really cook, you may want to consider calling in a professional to steam clean the the duct work to remove grease.

In conclusion:
Ammonia and abrasive cleansers are usually not best for the finishes so I recommend that with all of this advice that you please remember...even though it is not very popular or fun thing to the manual. That is the best way to insure you get the most out of your purchases. An you may even be surprised to learn about a feature you did not know you had.

Domestic Detox: Extreme Home Cleaning

Domestic Detox: Extreme Home Cleaning
The article in the New York Times Home Section today explains 'Building Biology' the latest certification you can earn online. As the article states, " 'sick building syndrome' or a sensitivity to chemicals like formaldehyde used in construction" became a diagnoses when people living in new homes or working in new offices began to suffer with illnesses.

The article finishes by calling for legislation for stricter laws on products and technologies.
Buyer Beware and until that legislation day comes...visit one of my favorite sites to verify product content and "greenness"
Greenguard Environmental Institute Product Guide

Friday, May 14, 2010

Indoor Air Quality ---You may want to Hold your Breath!

EPA-The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality

Green Guard

Summary quotes and information from GreenGuard and the EPA--


“The US Environmental Protection Agency, the American Lung Association, the World Health Organization and other public health and environmental organizations view indoor air pollution as one of the greatest risks to Human Health. “


Indoor Air is 2-5 times more polluted than Outdoor Air and in some cases 100 times more polluted, than outdoor air.

Why is this problem?


"People spend 90 percent of their time indoors."

In fact the EPA estimates that


"the average person receives 72 percent of their chemical exposure at home, which means that very place most people consider safest paradoxically exposes them to the greatest amounts of potentially hazardous pollutants."

The EPA and Green Guard a third party test group notes...
There are FOUR contributors to poor indoor air quality
1. Chemicals
2. Mold
3. Particulates
4. Poor Ventilation

1. Chemicals- including off gassing from furnishings, dry cleaning and chemical cleaners as well as in finishes like paint, wall paper, carpet and curtains....
a. Controlling the source…what you or the "cat dragged in" is a problem.

2. Mold- from moisture problems including damp basements, humid laundry rooms and bathrooms…
a. Controlling the moisture with proper ventilation
b. and dehumidifiers

3. Particulates- Airborne particulates can also come from dirt and dust that are tracked in from outdoors…
a. Installing walk-off mats at doorways and cleaning them regularly.
b. Changing air filters regularly
c. Using a vacuum with a Hepa filter are all good strategies to limit these pollutants.

4. Poor Ventilation—
a. With the new standards for air tight construction, it is even more important to have ventilation systems that are designed to bring in fresh air.
b. Most ventilation systems are designed to bring in very little outdoor air and instead re-circulate the indoor air that has already been heated or cooled as an effective way to minimize energy costs; it can have a negative impact on the indoor air quality.

My two cents... You may hear things like open your window from the EPA if you are painting, and the US Green Building's LEED certification for buildings has a highly controversial flushing system that recommends blowing large quantities of air into your building to "flush out" all the toxic off gassing...well, if you really want to get technical, if you live near the water, or in a humid area, the moisture that gets pulled into the room takes you back to #2 Mold issues….And if you have allergies and it is Pollen or Hay fever season you may want to make considerations on a case by case, region by region bases but...

Please do not let this information paralyze you...

The #1 Strategy for controlling IAQ is...

Source Control-- reduce indoor air pollution and limit chemical exposure by not bringing it into your space in the first place.

1. Take off your shoes so you don't track particulates into the home.

2. When you are Buying Products--furnishings, clothing, dry cleaning, detergents and cleaning products, think about the off gassing or VOC’s.

3. Maintain Heating and Air Conditioning Equipment--Change those filters on a regular bases.

To get past the green washing of low and no VOC’s check to see if the product has been given the GREENGUARD Certified for low chemical emissions. Green Guard is a third party testing company that certifies products and their Greeness if you will. Some paints claim to be no VOC, however, the tinting added when you choose the colors are not in some cases only the base is No VOC. GREEGUARD has an amazing online Product Guide and all of these tips to improve IAQ listed on their website.

Additionally, Consumer Report Greener Choices Website is also very useful Listing information regarding Products.

Get outside and get some fresh air. Take in deep breaths. You will feel better....just remember to wear your sunscreen :)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Insulation and Window Replacement ---What you need to know.

window replacement; historic window; bay window

Energy Efficiency is all about insulation and installation.

Window Replacement advertisements on TV and in mail circulars abound-
anyone concerned about their energy bill is told that old drafty windows are the enemy. While the typical old window does not have a very high "R-value" (insulating value) ranging from less than one to about 1, new top of the line, triple pane windows with the low e glass will only have an R-value of about 4. The R-value for an insulated wall used in standard wood frame construction is about 12. That said:

Tip one:

A more energy efficient home is well insulated
--start there.

Insulation is relatively inexpensive, and will make a difference. Be sure to read and follow the installation instructions. An insulation with a high R-value installed incorrectly will do you no good and may cause problems down the line.
Pay attention to the installation directions and read the Department of Energy Insulation Fact Sheet for even more helpful tips and facts.

Tip two:

If you are going to replace the windows, consider the R-Value but again, consider the installation. Window replacement done correctly is expensive. Done cheaply, the benefits are diminished and the architectural aesthetic as well as the amount of natural light are compromised along with the value of your home.

Typically, if a window replacement is done correctly, the exterior and interior trim will be removed along with the old flashing and window. New headers may be required by code, new flashing will be installed, rotted sills replaced and the new energy efficient window installed.

The window replacements that take a day, take out your old window and attach an insert/new jamb liner and window in the existing opening.
This does a few things:

1. It decreases the amount of light coming into the room as the window opening was just made smaller by installing the new liner over the old.

2. The new windows have a larger sash profile and the total amount of glass is decreased again decreasing the amount of natural light into the space.

3. The last concern is that the new liner is not energy rated, only the smaller window is.

4. Yes the windows were replaced in a day and it was a bargain but you may not even qualify for the government tax breaks and incentives behind the rally cry.

For older homes, if you have storm windows, use them, if you don't have them, consider them as a cost effective alternative to window replacement.

If nothing else please remember with
Insulation and Window Replacement


More information about the correct selection and installation of replacement windows is available in this article by James O'Bannon and Andre Grieco in Home Energy Magazine

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

EPA- Renovate Right: Important Lead Hazard Information for Families, Child Care Providers and Schools

Renovation, Repairing or Painting (RRP) Effective April 20, 2010 The EPA's new Lead Hazard Renovate Right Laws begin. There is no grandfathering, if you are in the middle of a project you must comply immediately....that is if you are paying someone for the services.

Quotes from the EPA's Renovate Right Pamphlet:

"Federal law requires that individuals receive certain information before renovating six square feet or more of painted surfaces in a room for interior projects or more than twenty square feet of painted surfaces for exterior projects in housing, child care facilities and schools built before 1978." EPA Pamphlet

"Also, beginning April 2010, Federal Law will require contractors that disturb lead-based paint in homes, child care facilities and schools, built before 1978 to be certified and follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination. Therefore beginning in April 2010, ask to see your contractor's certification." EPA Pamphlet

The contractor must provide you with the Renovate Right pamphlet and proof of their certification. EPA Pamphlet

"Do-it-yourself'" projects. If you plan to do renovation work yourself, this pamphlet is a good start, but you will need more information to complete the work safely. Call the National Lead Information Center at 1-800424-LEAD and ask for more information on how to work safely in a home with lead-based paint." EPA Pamphlet


Okay, this is all very serious stuff and I had a few questions about the do-it yourself quote above so I did as it said, I called the above hot line and Kessiah answered. She was very friendly so I read her the quote and I asked about the "more information" that I needed to get from them. She suggested that I visit the website.

When I pressured Kessiah for more information from her, what exactly should I know from the mountains of information on the website she was not sure exactly what I should know so I tried another approach to getting more information...

I explained, "I am a home owner and I want to paint my child's room and the painted trim is already chipping." Kessiah suggested I read the website and call if I had any other questions. There is so much information about lead safe practices and testing and laws, so I pressed Kessiah more, "As a home owner do-it-yourself-er, do I have to comply with the New EPA Law Read EPA's Regulations on Residential Property Renovation at 40 CFR 745.80, Subpart E. ?"

Kessiah answered "no"... we talked some more and reasoned that even though the answer is no

one should for the safety and well being of themselves and those around, and one must comply if anyone is paid to help and that the help must be certified.

My guess is if you read what lead poisoning can do to you, you will think twice about the "do-it-yourself" part if it involves any sanding or scraping.

If you are just changing the color, open the window and follow the EPA's Healthy Indoor Painting Practices. choose no VOC paints and have some fun.

Regarding who will be enforcing this new law, I spoke with the Building Department today, and this is considered to be in the Health Departments realm of business. I am sure there will be more to come regarding this issue.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Coat of Paint Can Change Your Life!

So, what color should I paint the room/house?

Oh the Choices!!! There are so many colors to choose from. For a while now, Paint companies have offered us thousands of colors to select from and have been able to color match anything you bring to them.

Traditional paint fans are great, but can be overwhelming. That is why Pottery Barn has partnered with Benjamin Moore. Their catalog phone operators received so many inquiries about "the color on the wall in the catalog on page..." that they make mini seasonal color fans of the selections that work with the products they are selling in the stores. (

Martha Stewart has cards for her paints that actually make suggestions for trim and accent colors to use instead of the traditional card with shades of the same color all on one strip leaving you with the task of picking the trim and accent color.

Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams now offer apps for your phone with a "color capture" feature but I am not to convinced that it is as accurate as having a physical sample of the color you like. Just bring that scarf, your grandma's favorite dress, or the piece of wraping paper to the paint store...they will match it.

You may want to consider the psychological effect the color you choose will have on the people that enter the room. There are studies that indicate that people are more apt to be dishonest in dark rooms and a study by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation concluded that the "Physical environment" (including color)"is an important component in the acute care setting that can directly impact patient safety, nursing and medication errors, as well as contribute to staff fatigue, stress and burnout resulting in errors."

Colors are also very cultural...hence the new line of colors by Sherwin Williams called "Hacienda" ( speaks to the growing number of Hispanics buying their products or that they are trying to lure as consumers.

If you google Color Psychology, you will find David Johnson's research on the question "Do different colors affect your mood?"

In short, Mr.'s Johnson's article states that:

"Black is the color of authority and power...

White innocence and purity, but also in the medical field, to imply sterility...

Red stimulates a faster heartbeat and is an appetite stimulant...

Pink is more tranquilizing to the point that sports teams sometime paint the locker rooms used by opposing teams bright pink so their opponents will lose energy...

Blue causes the body to produce calming chemicals but can also be cold and depressing." shades matter "dark blue symbolizes loyalty. People are more productive in blue rooms and Studies show weightlifters are able to handle heavier weights in blue gyms...

Green is the most popular decorating color, the easiest on the eye and can improve vision. It is calming and why people waiting to appear on TV sit in the 'green room'.

Yellow is cheerful and considered an optimistic color, however, people lose their temper more often in yellow rooms, and babies will cry more. It speeds metabolism and enhances concentration and calls attention.

Purple the color of royalty...

Brown implies solid and reliable" ...What can brown do for you?..."

Because color is so highly emotional, the best advice I can give you it to go buy a small can in the colors you are considering and try them out...look at the sample area during all times of day and night. What will the lighting in the room be like when you are there most? How does it make you feel? Do you like it? Benjamin Moore allows you to order wet paint samples that are "actual 2 oz containers of your favorite paint colors that cover a 2’ X 2’ surface area with two coats of paint.
or Our large color chips are 18” X 18” color-filled sheets you can move easily throughout your home. "

I personally carried a one inch piece of fabric in my wallet for a very long time because I liked it. When it came time to paint my house...I went to the paint store and asked them to match it. That is now the color of my Front Door.

Still can't decide what me I am sure I can help you find a color that will make you happy.

Please be mindful if you hire a company to paint a room or building that was built before 1978 you must comply with the new EPA laws for Lead. Renovate Right (pdf) - EPA Lead Hazard Information. If you do it would be wise to follow the procedures as well.

For more on Healthy Indoor Painting Practices from the EPA check out this Pamphlet